Quotations about   greatness

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Now Jesus himself saw the power that competition holds over men. He did not ignore it. Yet he does something with the conception of competition that hadn’t been done before. He takes the conception which has been used for lower purposes and rescues it from many of its dangers, by suggesting a higher method of its use. This is how he applied the term to his disciples. He saw them in danger of using it for low purposes. They wanted to compete for reputation and position — “which of them should be accounted greatest?” Jesus says so, if you must use the power of competition, if you must compete with on another, make it as noble as you can by using it on noble things. Use it for a fine, unselfish thing. “He that is greatest among you shall serve.” Use it for human good. Who shall be the most useful. Compete with one another in humility. See which can be the truest servant. It seems that Christ says, “Use it, but use it for higher and holier purposes. Use it not to surpass one another in esteem, but use it to increase the amount of usefulness and brother-help.” Such conceptions of competition lead to the surprising and ennobling position that there can be competition without hate and jealousy. Behold! You can struggle to beat and yet rejoice to be beaten.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Cooperative Competition / Noble Competition,” sermon outline
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Added on 23-Nov-16 | Last updated 23-Nov-16
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After sitting next to Mr. Gladstone I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.

Other Authors and Sources
Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (1872-1956) (Attributed)
Added on 15-Aug-16 | Last updated 15-Aug-16
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Time never fails to bring every exalted reputation to a strict scrutiny: the world, in passing the judgment that is never to be reversed, will deny all partiality even to the name of Washington. Let it be denied, for its justice will confer glory.

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) American politician, orator
“Eulogy on Washington” (8 Feb 1800)
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You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

Munroe - become great - wist_info quote

Randall Munroe (b. 1984) American webcomic writer, roboticist, programmer
XKCD, # 896 “Marie Curie” (9 May 2011)
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Added on 20-Jan-16 | Last updated 20-Jan-16
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Envy is the tax which all distinction must pay.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1824)
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This is the way of greatness. In the supreme moments of history, terms like duty, truth, justice, and mercy — which in our torpid hours are tired words — become the measure of decision. … The straight and righteous path is the shortest and the surest.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
“The Fascination of Greatness,” Today and Tomorrow (7 Sep 1943)
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Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Gay MacLaren, Morally We Roll Along (1938). A recollection of something Twain said to the author when she was a child. More information here.
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A consecutive series of great actions never is the result of chance and luck; it is always the product of planning and genius. … Is it because they are lucky that they have become great? No, but by being great, they have been able to master luck.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Remarks to Emanuel Las Cases (14 Nov 1816)

In The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words, ch. 56 [ed. J. Herold (1955)]
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Not a day passes over the earth but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows.

Reade - of no note - wist_info

Charles Reade (1814-1884) English novelist and dramatist
The Cloister and the Hearth, ch. 1 (1861)
Added on 25-Nov-15 | Last updated 25-Nov-15
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BRUTUS: The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
Remorse from power.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Julius Caesar, Act 2, Sc. 1, l. 18 (1599)
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MALVOLIO: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.

Shakespeare - greatness thrust - wist_info

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Twelfth Night, Act 2, Sc. 5, l. 156 (1599)
Added on 11-Nov-15 | Last updated 13-Nov-15
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[T.E. Lawrence] is one of those great men for whom one feels intensely sorry because he was nothing but a great man.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Letter to Virginia Ocampo (12 Dec 1946)
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Great men are rarely isolated mountain peaks; they are the summits of ranges.

Higginson - great men - wist_info

Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) American minister, author, abolitionist, soldier
“A Plea for Culture,” Atlantic Essays (1871)
Added on 28-Oct-15 | Last updated 28-Oct-15
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We are very near to greatness: one step and we are safe: can we not take the leap?
Emerson - greatness - wist_info

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (28 Oct 1841)
Added on 21-Oct-15 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.

Walter Payton (1954-1999) American football player
(Attributed)
Added on 20-Oct-15 | Last updated 20-Oct-15
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It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1841)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

John Buchan (1875-1940) Scottish novelist, poet, and politician; Governor-General of Canada (1935 -1940)
Montrose and Leadership (1930)
Added on 12-Oct-15 | Last updated 13-Oct-15
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Every man of action has a strong dose of egotism, pride, hardness, and cunning. But all those things will be forgiven him, indeed, they will be regarded as high qualities, if he can make of them the means to achieve great ends.

Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) French statesman and soldier
The Edge of the Sword, “Of Prestige” (2) (1934) [tr. Hopkins (1960)]
Added on 7-Oct-15 | Last updated 7-Oct-15
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Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, ch. 13 (1759)
Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 28-Apr-16
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If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; these are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man.

Vivekananda (1863-1902) Indian Hindu monk, spiritual reformer, nationalist [b. Narendra Nath Datta]
Swami Vivekananda on Universal Ethics and Moral Conduct [ed. Swami Ranganathananda (1965)]
Added on 14-Sep-15 | Last updated 14-Sep-15
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I am stressing that it is the force of ideas rather than the impact of material things that made us a great nation. It is my conviction, too, that only the power of ideas, of enduring values, can keep us a great nation. For, where there is no vision the people perish.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
Added on 17-Jun-15 | Last updated 17-Jun-15
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And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Drum Major Instinct,” sermon, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta (4 Feb 1968)
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See Matthew 23:11-12.
Added on 3-Apr-15 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 23:11-12
Added on 3-Apr-15 | Last updated 3-Apr-15
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It is the mark of great people to treat trifles as trifles and important matters as important.

[Denn zu einem großen Manne gehört beides: Kleinigkeiten als Kleinigkeiten, und wichtige Dinge als wichtige Dinge zu behandeln.]

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Vierunddreißigstes Stück Den 25. Aug 1767, Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767-1769)
Added on 4-Mar-15 | Last updated 4-Mar-15
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Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“A Psalm of Life” (1838)
Added on 14-Jan-15 | Last updated 14-Jan-15
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MORELLA: Greatness is never appreciated in youth, called pride in middle age, dismissed in old age, and reconsidered in death. Because we cannot tolerate greatness in our midst we do all we can to destroy it.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×09 “Point of No Return” (26 Feb 1996)
Added on 25-Jul-14 | Last updated 25-Jul-14
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The superior man is the providence of the inferior. He is eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenseless. He stands erect by bending above the fallen. He rises by lifting others.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Liberty”
Added on 11-Jan-12 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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All rising to a great place is by a winding stair.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Great Place,” Essays, No. 11 (1625)
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Added on 11-Feb-11 | Last updated 16-May-16
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If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“Letter from a Region of My Mind,” The New Yorker (17 Nov 1962)

Republished as "Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind" in The Fire Next Time (1963)
Added on 3-Sep-10 | Last updated 14-May-18
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A cock has great influence on his own dunghill.

[In sterculino plurimum gallus potest.] 

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 357
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A player who makes a team great is better than a great player.

John Wooden (1910-2010) American basketball player and coach
“The Prodigy” (2003)
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IBM Linux commercial.
Added on 15-Mar-04 | Last updated 31-Jul-18
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Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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Keep me from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese-American poet, writer, painter [Gibran Khalil Gibran]
Mirrors of the Soul (1965)
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Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can. This is the service of a friend. With him we are easily great.

Emerson - chief want in life - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Considerations by the Way,” The Conduct of Life (1860)
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Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused. Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but are famous because they are great. We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.

Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004) American historian, professor, attorney, writer
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, ch. 2, “From Hero to Celebrity: The Human Pseudo-event” (1961)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 18-Jan-16
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I could do great things, if I weren’t so busy doing little things.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots, #0828
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There is no great genius without a touch of madness.

[Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Problemata, 30.1

Attributed to Aristotle by Seneca the Younger, "On Tranquillity of Mind" (17.10).Variants:
  • "No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness."
  • "No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness." [tr. Basore (1932)]
  • "There is no great genius without a mixture of madness."
  • "There was never a genius without a tincture of madness."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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